Alerting Nurses to Increased Reports of Sexual Assault in the Military

This post is a bit of a departure for the Word Curmudgeon (in that it’s neither very curmudgeonly  nor about some arcane word usage question), but I think it’s a worthy departure and of particular relevance to both military nurses (abroad and stateside) and nonmilitary nurses—anyone, in fact, who treats women who’ve served in the U.S. military.

Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq there have been horrifying stories in the news about the high rates of sexual assault in the U.S. military. For example, a recent report from the National Organization for Women says that “a 2008 Veterans Administration study

[found] that one in seven female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical care from the VA . . . had suffered sexual trauma” and that an estimated 80 percent of assaults go unreported. Just last month, a report from CNN pointed out that there were “165 sexual assault reports in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2008, which began October 1, 2007.” And in that same period, “there were 2,923 reports of sexual assaults among active duty U.S. troops worldwide, up from 2,688 reported the previous fiscal year.”

One indication that the Department of Defense may be starting to take the issue seriously is Assault Prevention and Response (, a new campaign to address the problem. Displaying slogans like Our Strength Is for Defending and Part of Our Duty Is Preventing Sexual Assault, the campaign’s Web site provides radio spots and video public service accouncements, as well as customizable campaign posters, such as the one above, for the army, and this one for the navy.


The campaign was inspired, in part, by an older one developed under the creative direction of women’s rights advocate John Stoltenberg (who is creative director of the military campaign, too): My Strength Is Not for Hurting, which was developed to help boys and young men learn to use their power to defend and protect—never to assault—women, to “challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace [young men’s] vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.” This campaign may be particularly useful to school nurses.

The increase in reports of sexual assaults doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual number of assaults is on the rise, but it does hint that those who are assaulted may be more comfortable reporting such attacks. (We’ll probably never know how many servicewomen are actually raped.) Legislation to improve the support network for women who are sexually assaulted by their comrades has just been introduced in the House [HR 840]. One provision of the bill is for funds to be provided to “employ at least one medical professional trained as a sexual assault nurse examiner [SANE] and at least one psychiatrist, and a complimentary clinical team, at each military treatment facility operated by the Department of Defense.” (I’m sad to point out that the authors of the bill added to this provision a dreaded phrase: “To the extent funds are available for such purpose . . .” Well, it’s a start.)
—The Word Curmudgeon (Doug Brandt, AJN associate editor) will provide occasional and crusty contemplations for the writing nurse, from a copyeditor’s perspective.

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2016-11-21T13:35:04+00:00 April 14th, 2009|Nursing|2 Comments
Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Doug Brandt April 16, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks, sfoleyajn. That looks like something I need to add to my reading list.

  2. sfoleyajn April 16, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Doug, thanks for this highly disturbing and essential post. Just last weekend I read an excerpt from Helen Benedict’s new book — The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, April 2009) — describing the isolation female soldiers in Iraq must contend with and the nonstop sexual harassment many endure. Benedict, a professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, has written extensively about war and women’s issues. Thought people might want to know about it — it’s high on my reading list.

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